US Open 2019 - Pebble Beach - PREVIEW

Posted by GolfBox on 10th Jun 2019

The US Open is known as the toughest test in golf and this year’s edition looks set to produce its fair share of carnage, controversy and courage.

THE COURSE

The US Open returns to one of the best courses on the rota for the sixth time - Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula in California.

Perched along the Pacific Ocean coastline, Pebble Beach is the most famous course on the west coast of the US and has hosted the PGA Tour’s AT&T pro-am every year since 1947.

While the AT&T is famous for its celebrity amateurs and laid-back atmosphere, the course will be an entirely different prospect given the US Golf Association (USGA) is in charge of setting it up.

And that means the eventual winner will have to grind out four days of consistent golf around a course where par is going to be a competitive score - when Graeme McDowell won the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach not one player finished under par.

BROOKS KOEPKA

When you’ve won four out of the last eight majors, including the previous two US Opens, you deserve to be a warm favourite at Pebble Beach.

Brooks Koepka’s performance at Bethpage Black last month when winning the US PGA championship was brilliant in every aspect.

He jumped out of the blocks to a first round lead and never relinquished it, fighting back from four consecutive bogeys on the back nine in the final round to hold off a surging Dustin Johnson.

Often criticised for his lack of emotion, Koepka’s celebration after holing his final putt provided a glimpse of just how much the fightback win meant to him.

Koepka’s the real deal under pressure and putts as well as anyone, but his phenomenal length and accuracy with his TaylorMade M5 driver won’t be quite the weapon it normally is around the relatively short Pebble Beach course.

THE SHORTEST HOLE ON TOUR

Pebble Beach is an iconic course and for many golf fans is as revered as Augusta National or St Andrews.

One of the best holes on the course is the 7th, a 106-yard par 3 which is the shortest hole on the PGA Tour.

The tee sits high atop a cliff and the tiny green lies 40 feet below it, skirting the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

Sea spray often envelopes the putting surface when waves crash against the granite rocks on the shoreline and, depending on the wind direction and strength, players will probably be hitting anything between a lob wedge and seven iron into the green.

The 7th hole played as short as 92 yards in the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach but produced its share of drama despite its lack of length.

TIGER WOODS

Big Cat will be on the hunt again in the US Open and looks ready for action after missing the cut in the US PGA Championship.

But it might pay to ignore that run because Woods was under-prepared going into the PGA, having not played competitively since winning the Masters the previous month.

Tiger will hit the US Open after tying for ninth in the Memorial tournament, coming home strong with a final-round 67.

It was a perfect tune-up and he looked to be rehearsing shots he'll call on in the US Open, including his famous stinger with his TaylorMade P7TW 2 iron and his high, soft cut he favours for accuracy with his TaylorMade M5 driver - more than handy for the tight fairways he'll find at Pebble Beach.

For a golfer who lives off the pressure of majors, it's hard not to like his chances of another miracle win after his amazing Masters breakthrough.

THE CLOSING HOLE

The 18th hole at Pebble Beach is one of the best closing holes in golf - a classic risk/reward par 5 that sweeps right-to-left following the coastline.

There’s trouble waiting off the tee with the Pacific Ocean in full view on the left side of the fairway, but to have a chance of reaching the green in two, players will have to position their drives as close to the ocean as they dare in order to shorten the hole.

But bailing out down the right side of the fairway has its own problems; trees come into play and the angle for the subsequent layup shot increases in difficulty.

A 90m-long bunker runs down the left side of the fairway almost until the green, but like the drive, a lay-up that finishes close to this bunker will have an easier third shot into the green; landing further right will result in a third shot being blocked by a cypress tree and will bring a greenside bunker into play.

With just about any number possible on Pebble Beach’s 18th (John Daly recorded a 14 in the 2000 US Open), it is bound to play a part in deciding who will be holding the trophy aloft on Sunday.

ADAM SCOTT AND THE AUSSIES

Eight Aussies are playing in the US Open and one in particular looks like he has the game and form to be successful at Pebble Beach.

Adam Scott, Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Matt Jones, Cam Smith, Aaron Baddeley, Brett Drewitt and Marcus Fraser will tee it up and Scott looks likely to be the man to challenge after his recent superb run of form.

Scotty finished second to Patrick Cantlay at the Memorial and was tied eighth at the PGA after finishing third in the same major last year.

His iron play is still as spectacular as it always has been and while the knock on his game has always been his putting, he leads the PGA statistics in holing putts from 15-20 feet.

You get the feeling that Scotty is close to putting it all together in this US Open to claim his second major.

It would be a terrific outcome for a player of his talent.

THE USGA WILDCARD

The US Open has been a bit hard to love in recent times.

Regarded as golf’s toughest test and characterised by narrow fairways and thick rough, the event has recently come under fire by leading players by being too tough and above all, not fair.

It must be said that golf isn’t meant to be fair, but the USGA has developed a habit of setting up already difficult courses right on the limit, mainly by running the greens at up to 14 on the stimp.

Add when you add in some torturous pin positions that the USGA is renowned for, all you need is a little breeze to turn the already dry greens into glass and they become unplayable, which is what happened at Shinnecock Hills. Twice.

US OPEN MOMENT #1 - SHINNECOCK

When the US Open returned to Shinnecock Hills last year, USGA officials were adamant there wouldn’t be a repeat of the 2004 US Open at the course when the greens became unplayable in the final round.

The best players in the world were aghast as the greens became so quick that even their gentlest missed putts rolled off the greens and into bunkers; sanity finally prevailed and greens staff sprayed much-needed water onto the crusty greens.

But the same thing happened again last year, this time in the third round.

Morning conditions were OK but by the time the third round leaders teed off the greens were borderline unplayable, with putts running off the green from 10 feet, scores blowing out and the third-round leaders plummeting down the leaderboard.

And it triggered one of the most talked about scenes ever witnessed in a US Open, for all the wrong reasons.

WILL PHIL GO NUTS AGAIN THIS YEAR?

The most bizarre thing at Shinnecock Hills last year was Phil Mickelson jogging after a putt that was quickly disappearing off the 13th green and whacking it back towards the hole while it was still moving.

It occurred when conditions were turning putrid in the third round and either Phil snapped or he’d pre-meditated the move as a giant middle finger to the USGA.

Phil was given a two-stroke penalty but many pundits thought he should’ve been disqualified – something that no doubt would’ve happened to a player without Phil’s star power.

The US Open is the only major missing from Phil’s trophy cabinet but you get the feeling the 48-year-old wants it almost too much. And that is a recipe for disaster in a US Open, which is designed to test a golfer's mental resolve just as much as their game.

Phil did win the AT&T pro-am at Pebble Beach in February so he does have some runs on the board at Pebble Beach.

THE CROWDS

One thing that didn’t go unnoticed at the US PGA Championship was how quickly the New York fans turned on Brooks Koepka at Bethpage Black.

With Koepka leaking four shots and Dustin Johnson getting within one shot of the lead, the fans started encouraging Koepka to choke and shifted their allegiance to DJ.

It was a strange thing to happen but seeing whether the west coast crowds react with the same intensity as the New Yorkers will be an interesting sideshow at this US Open.

US OPEN MOMENT #2 - BIRD MAN

When Webb Simpson won the US Open in 2012, his victory was completely overshadowed by what occurred at the trophy presentation.

Webb was recounting his final round with NBC anchor Bob Costas when a bloke in a woollen hat, knitted with the Union Jack and fake bird feathers, interrupted proceedings.

What happened next put Webb Simpson's US Open win into the 'things you don't see every day category': the intruder appeared to look straight down the lens of the camera that was capturing the action and unleashed four or five bird calls before being bundled out of the action by none other than USGA director Mike Davis.

US Open winners have to remain calm out on the course and Webb Simpson was just as cool off it, picking up where he left off his interview before injecting an "enjoy the jail cell, pal" as the offender, who is instantly named Bird Man, is led away.

It turned out Bird Man, whose real name was Andrew Dudley, wanted to draw attention to deforestation with his stunt, which has now become part of US Open folklore.

CAN DJ CLOSE IT OUT?

With his runner-up finish in the US PGA, Dustin Johnson completed the grand slam of seconds in majors.

For a player of his ability and length he’s only managed just one major victory, the 2016 US Open.

Johnson looks about the only golfer in the world who might have a chance of beating Koepka at his brilliant best, especially when smoking his TaylorMade M5 driver, but Pebble Beach was the scene of his 2010 US Open meltdown.

Leading by three strokes from eventual winner Graeme McDowell heading into the final round, Johnson lost the lead at the second hole and never recovered, firing a disastrous 11-over-par 82 that included a ball lost in the thick rough - it was actually found but it came 20 seconds too late.

DJ doesn’t seem to be the kind of player that carries too much scar tissue and you’d expect him to be at the pointy end come Sunday.

THE EUROPEANS

Rory McIlroy’s Canadian Open win has thrust him into contention after he shot 64-61 on the weekend for a seven-stroke margin.

McIlroy won the US Open at Congressional by eight strokes in 2011, but has missed the cut in his last three tries - which was the reason he decided to play in the Canadian Open the week prior to this year’s US Open.

McIlroy can hit shots that few others can and when his game is on, he can destroy quality fields. 

So who does look good from the European continent?

British Open champion Francesco Molinari and his Ryder Cup partner-in-crime Tommy Fleetwood are the best of the bunch going on form in majors - Molinari was in control of the Masters until the back nine, ultimately finishing tied 5th and Fleetwood was the runner-up at last year's US Open.

Two-time US Open winner Martin Kaymer bounced back to form in the Memorial, the German leading after 54 holes before finishing third.

Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose haven't been a threat in their most recent outings but all tend to step up in major championships.

US OPEN MOMENT #3 - PHIL'S PAIN

After winning the 2006 Masters, Phil Mickelson looked like he was about to add another major in quick succession at the US Open at Winged Foot.

As he stood on the 18th tee, all Lefty needed to do was par the last to finally hoist the US Open trophy.

Unfortunately, he went with his driver off the tee and cut it so badly that his ball hit the roof of a hospitality tent in no-man's land.

It was the beginning of a messy chain of events that led to Phil recording a double bogey and losing the tournament on the last hole.

It was hard to watch and you had to feel sorry for Phil, but Australian Geoff Ogilvy, who was watching it all unfold in the clubhouse, won by a stroke to claim his maiden major victory.